The Knitting & Stitching Show at Ally Pally

Last week was my annual jaunt to the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace – with a slight difference this year in that I was teaching for the first time! It was great fun to do, quite a few people finished or near-finished the needlebook, and two ladies stayed behind and told me how much they’d appreciated the workshop, which was such a relief to hear smiley. One lady who said she hadn’t done much stitching before did find it a bit of a challenge, though, and I’m wondering whether next time I ought to say something like “suitable for beginners at Hardanger with some general stitching experience”. I haven’t quite worked out the right wording, and any suggestions will be gratefully received.

Besides the workshop there was lots of time to look round all the stands. I love looking at the Guild ones, like the Spinners, Weavers & Dyers (did you know that buddleia flowers produce a vivid yellow dye?) and the Braiders and Embroiderers and Lacemakers and all the other techniques. Most of them I will never do myself, but it is very interesting to see. As was Jean Littlejohn’s exhibition A Timeline of Crewel Work; it was great to see a project that I had just read about in Stitch magazine in real life, and study the stitches in close-up.

Of course the things I am most on the lookout for are threads and fabrics, with a sprinkling of beads and other embellishments. This time, in fact, I took two bobbins of DMC to the show to find the right colour beads for Treasure Trove – and did I find any? No. three, four, lots of bead stands, and I still couldn’t find the right shade. I wonder whether it was partly because actually the light in there isn’t very good for comparing colours. Oh well, I’ll just have to keep looking! Fortunately there were plenty of stands with with lovely threads, variegated, hand-dyed, cotton, silk, the lot! I did get several but as they are for an exchange I won’t show them here, in case the intended recipient reads this blog…

I did notice that there was rather more wool and fabric around this year – a definite emphasis on knitting/crochet and sewing/quilting/patchwork, plus a surprising number of stands with felt and felting kits. There was really only one seller of counted fabrics, and I sorely missed Kate from Sparklies who wasn’t at the show this year. It makes such a difference when you can see hand-dyed fabrics in real life (even under the far-from-ideal lighting at Alexandra Palace).

And did I end up buying anything? Well, yes, I did, and I managed to stay well within my budget while getting some really exciting materials! Below are my purchases of the day (including some useful beads for the next Christmas Craft Event).

Purchases at the 2013 Knitting & Stitching Show

One of the stands sold lovely ceramic buttons, and although they were rather expensive I couldn’t resist getting two of them; I think they’ll make a lovely focal point in the centre of a small Hardanger design. Unfortunately I can’t remember who I got them from, so I will have to use them for private projects rather than Mabel’s Fancies designs which need to be replicable.

Ceramic buttons

This year I was especially inspired by 21st Century Yarnswith their hand-dyed silks, felt and silk organza. The felt squares may be used as backing, or I may just do some free embroidery on them and use them as patches on a bag. The silk organza squares are dyed in gloriously rich jewel colours, and have led to a set of new designs which I’ve decided to call Extravorganza. I’ll admit it – I like puns, and I’m not afraid to use them smiley.

21st Century Yarns felt 21st Century Yarns silk organza

Unexpected inspiration came from the two small projects I had taken with me to stitch on the train and in the evenings. Combine the Systematic Round Dozen chart, two pieces of coloured 28ct Jobelan, some cream and white perle cotton and hey presto, two rather elegant little squares. They gave me an idea for another pair of designs, to be named Wedgwood – can you guess why?

Wedgwood variations Wedgwood variations

PS My husband calculated that the Systematic Round Dozen chart will, in theory, yield several hundred thousand variations. Don’t worry; I don’t intend to try them all.

Choices, choices

Last Monday I went to my weekly Embroidery Circle (although Stitch & Chat would probably be more accurate), and I’d taken October to finish. That wasn’t going to take the full two hours, however, in spite of the usual amount of chatting, so I also took a couple of bits of fabric and a selection of threads to do a few freebie stars in different colours. But when I got round to them, could I find my chart? No, I couldn’t. (The mysterious thing is that it wasn’t in my chart folder at home either; did my husband go off with it for a bit of stitch therapy in the garage?) Never mind, they are quite simple designs after all so surely I could do them without a chart. Well, I could – but I couldn’t quite remember how the pointed bits went. There were two obvious ways, and as it turned out I picked the one I hadn’t originally charted. It also turned out I actually prefer the way I did them at the stitching group! So I re-charted them, and here are the new-look stars. Don’t worry if you downloaded the original charts and can’t see the difference, it’s really very small smiley.

Freebie Star 1 Freebie Star 2

That choice was hardly a choice at all seeing that the two alternatives were so alike; merely a vague preference for one pointed shape over another. But I am still working my way through a more difficult choice: which variation of Treasure Trove to do. I’ve been doing lots of small designs recently, so I thought it was time for a slightly larger one, and Treasure Trove has been calling me for a while because it contains a few firsts for me – my first use of Jessica stitch (which I work a little differently from most people), and my first use of metallic kid. That’s leather, not spray-painted off-spring, by the way. In fact, the Jessica stitch will be used to frame the padded leather.

I charted the design in two colourways: red/gold and blue/silver. And as I was getting the materials together, I realised I liked them both equally! The pictures below aren’t quite accurate, by the way – I charted the light blue as DMC 799 only to find that I don’t actually have that in my stash… Also, I am not entirely happy with the red and blue beads; they need to match the dark shade in the design, and it’s very difficult to work out from online pictures which beads do. I have a conversion list which gives DMC equivalents for Mill Hill beads, but it isn’t always as accurate as I would like. So I’ve packed two bobbins of DMC stranded cotton to take to London later this week, when I’ll be able to see various brands of beads at the Knitting & Stitching Show and compare them with the the DMC colours side by side. Choice postponed.

Materials for the red/gold version Materials for the blue/silver version

Remember the Round Dozen Hybrid charts? Purely for my own amusement (don’t expect them for sale on the website) I’ve charted the Systematic Mix & Match Round Dozen. It consists of a basic chart with four “sub-charts” that you use to fill in the gaps in the basic chart, if that makes sense. So the basic chart has four empty triangles – go to the corner motif sub-chart and choose one; the basic chart has a border of empty squares – go to the border sub-chart and pick a border stitch. And so on. How’s that for choices!

Round Dozen Mix & Match basic outline Round Dozen Mix & Match borders and uncut fillings Round Dozen Mix & Match corner motifs Round Dozen Mix & Match cut area Round Dozen Mix & Match bars and filling stitches

Incidentally if you don’t like cutting you could leave some of the variations uncut – you might want to add a little embellishment to what would otherwise be cut, but I think it looks quite effective as it is. As a matter of fact I did eventually do the cutting on this one, but it took some time to decide what the filling stitch was going to be…

An uncut Round Dozen variation

Rubber ducks, hybrids and GBBO

Last Saturday was the Aunt-of-Character’s birthday party, and a very good party it was too! Not only did we manage to catch up with lots of relatives, but it must be the only party I have ever been to where the 80-year-old birthday girl enthusiastically and expertly played her new bongos during a jazz jam session.

The birthday girl

As the festivities didn’t start until 4pm, my husband realised that he could, after all, participate in the Light Car & Edwardian Section Driving Test & Gymkhana at Prescott. For those of you to whom this is complete gibberish, it involves a whole host of car enthusiasts doing precision and timed driving in cars dating from the first three decades of the 20th century. I would have to come, of course, as it was en route to the party, but my husband told me it was actually rather dull to watch, so I could bring some stitching and sit in the warm club house with views of the hills and a nice cup of tea while he was driving around. That sounded good to me, so I put together a project folder with a small and not too challenging design, and off we went.

As he signed on the organiser handed me a form and a pen and said, “and of course your passenger needs to sign on too!” Passenger? What, me? Yes, apparently. It wasn’t particularly clear from the entry form, but several of the tests involved a passenger – and when I say “involved”, I mean it. Over the next 5 hours I picked up eight rubber ducks from a radiator, depositing three of them inside rubber tyres; shouted instructions to my husband so that the passenger-side wheels drove along a plank, while he tried not to squash some brave cuddly toys; and attempted to guide him around a slalom course of tyre stacks while he was driving with a bucket on his head. A bucket with a smiley face painted on it. I am proud to say that in spite of my complete lack of preparation, we managed to finish 4th in our class of 30.

I even managed to do some stitching in between tests! In my impromptu project folder was yet another Round Dozen variation – they are useful, as they make lovely cards, and very suitable as a travelling project because they use only white and one colour. In fact, I’ve found them so useful over the past few years, that I have now created two “pick & mix” Round Dozen charts; one uses the chain stitch diamond, the other uses the double cable stitch diamond, several filling stitches and bars are incorporated and in each of them all four corners (both satin stitch motif and border) are charted differently, so that from those two hybrid charts I can create dozens of different version. You do have to remember which bit of the chart you picked to begin with, but with a bit of concentration that’s not a problem.

Round Dozen hybrid 1 Round Dozen hybrid 2

Without a bit of concentration, however… The project that I started during the driving tests was finished last Tuesday evening. That’s right, Great British Bake-Off night! And as I groaned at an underbaked tea loaf or gasped at a particularly spectacular show-stopper display of sweet buns, I miscounted *hangs head in shame*. I didn’t actually follow my hybrid chart and stitch different corners – nothing quite that bad – but once again I have not succeeded in producing a flawless piece. Oh well. “One thread out” on 25ct means that a bit of the design is 1/25th of an inch out of place. I decided I can live with that. Can you spot what went wrong?

Can you spot the error?

Stash & stitching in Holland

While we were on holiday in my native Holland we visited family and friends, the beach that I used to go to both as a child and as an adult (this time with a force 7 wind blowing), the Keukenhof which was a riot of crocuses rather than the hyacinths and tulips you’d expect mid-April, and a lovely little village called Oud-Zuilen where we delivered an Austin Seven wheel (of course). We also went to the market in my home town, and one stand had some craft materials. Mostly card making and stamping stuff, but suddenly I noticed two metal rings laden with Caron Watercolours! One of the great difficulties when buying online is getting an accurate idea of colours, so being able to see them for myself was lovely, and then on top of that they turned out to be cheaper than here in England. And I’d just been given a belated birthday present by one of my aunts (the other one gave us dinner at our favourite Greek restaurant), so I spent it on some of these lovely threads.

Caron Watercolours bought in Holland

I acquired some less unexpected stash as well; before we left for Holland I’d ordered several fabrics from the Hardanger Atelier, to be sent to my mother’s address, thus saving postage to England. I got some unexciting-but-useful Lugana and Oslo, and two small pieces of other Zweigart fabrics to try out: Colmar, a 25ct which is slightly textured (I’ve used the check version, Colmar Carré, before) and Modena, a 35 or 36ct with an unexpectedly open weave.

Zweigart Modena and Colmar

I also had time to stitch, and I’d brought the materials for those two Round Dozen variations that I wanted to try. Well, here they are. They are absolutely identical except for the materials – the one on the left uses white DMC perle on white Lugana with Caron Wildflowers (086 Tahiti) for the coloured bits, the one on the right is stitched on maize Lugana with standard DMC perle #8 (353 and 744) and DMC Variations perle #5 (4100). I’ll be using that combination again, those pinks and yellows look so cheerful together! And don’t the two look different; I think you could stitch quite a few birthday cards based on one design before anyone noticed they were all getting “the same one”, as long as you varied your colours!

Round Dozen variation with Caron Wildflowers Round Dozen variation with DMC Variations perle

One last variation

Good news on the Frozen Flower front – the smaller of the two is finished, and I have finally succeeded in recharting the larger one so that it looks more or less the way I envisaged it, and is stitchable without having to wield two needles at once, or take your thread through half a dozen woven bars. Once the moving house card and the anniversary sampler are out of the way, it may even get stitched!

I’m all right for birthday cards for the next month or so, having done all those Round Dozen variations recently! This is the last of the lot – well, almost …

I used the cutting pattern of North and the satin stitch motifs from Noon, but with a Queen’s stitch border instead of a four-sided stitch one. This disturbed the balance, so I moved the motifs away from the centre. For decorating the uncut Kloster block squares I chose double cross stitch, but in perle thread rather than stranded cotton or silk, which makes them very 3D and textural, almost like very fat and regular French knots. I’ll certainly use them again!

Round Dozen variation

So why did I say this one was "almost" the last of the variations? Well, as I was charting three of these recent variations, I suddenly thought a spider’s web sort of surface stitch would make a great border too, as long as it’s for a card and not for a coaster. Not quite spider’s web roses or whipped roses, that’s a bit too much texture. So I charted it with a border of large cross stitches woven round, and of course I will now have to stitch it!

Another variation and a new stitch

I may have mentioned that we have a lot of birthdays and other celebrations coming up … and so yet another Round Dozen variation has seen the light. I tried a different cutting pattern this time, leaving a central "X" of squares uncut and embellishing them with surface stitches pinched from Tulips.
It also led to a new filling stitch. Because of the shape of the cut areas (a rectangle made up of two squares) none of the usual filling stitches felt right, so I just doodled with my needle and came up with something half way between a square filet and a dove’s eye, which because of the shape I thought I’d call Gamma stitch. It may, of course, be out there already, and have a name too – in which case do let me know!

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

Variations on variations on a theme

No, my fingers didn’t have a stutter when typing the title, nor did I have an accident with copy &paste. This is about variations on Round Dozen, whose twelve designs are themselves variations on a theme.
I always intended these designs to be just the right size for coasters and cards and so on – relatively quick to stitch, suitable for birthdays, new babies, anniversaries and Thank Yous, and easy to adapt to the stitcher’s or the receiver’s taste by changing the colours.
The ease of changing the colours was an important consideration when I designed them – it was one of the reasons why I went for one neutral and one coloured thread per design (and why I suggest 2 or 3 options for each of them in the chart packs). It meant that you didn’t have to worry about getting just the right shades together, or about needing four or five shades of one colour, or anything like that. It also meant that the designs were perfect as trial pieces for hand-dyed threads; you get to see your speciality thread in action, it doesn’t take very long, and you end up with a useful, versatile and decorative piece of stitching into the bargain.
So whenever I find myself in need of birthday cards in a relatively short time, I turn to these twelve. But having stitched them all as models for Mabel’s Fancies, I don’t really want to do them exactly the same, and so over the past months I’ve tried various changes. The easiest is to change the colour – here is East using a hand-dyed perle; I also exchanged the neutral thread for an Anchor perle with metallic running through it (the original is on the left, the variation on the right).

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

Another fairly uncomplicated change is to use a coloured fabric; it makes quite a difference whether you stitch Spring using green on standard white, or with a variegated yellow/pink on a dark red background.

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

But for the adventurous, there are even more options. The central Kloster block diamond is exactly the same size in each of the twelve designs; the double cable stitch border surrounding it in eight of them is only a little wider than the chain stitch border that is used in the other four; quite a lot of the small satin stitch motifs are roughly the same size; and the majority of the speciality stitch outer borders are interchangeable.
So if you like the satin stitch motifs and chain stitch of West, the outer border of North, the filling stitches of Morning and only the central square left uncut; or the cutting pattern of South with the filling stitches of Night, the satin stitch motifs of Morning and the border of Spring; there’s no reason why you can’t combine them.

Round Dozen variations Round Dozen variations

And then of course you can use different types of thread – here is a hybrid Summer/South, on coloured fabric, and using Gentle Art hand-dyed wool (which Tiffany, a generous fellow member of the Cross Stitch Forum, sent me to try) instead of perle #8.
Round Dozen variations
So let your imagination run riot, try different cutting patterns or no cutting at all, use two contrasting colours instead of one colour and a neutral, stitch on hand-dyed fabric, do whatever you like – and then send me a picture!